Wot a wizace!

Source // Wikipedia

Reading the entry for Wizball in the 1001 book just doesn't prepare you for seeing Wizball in action. Described as a frustratingly tough game where you control an anthropomorphized cabbage to paint monochromatic worlds, Wizball is going to make a lot of players say 'Whaaaaaaaat...?' upon their first viewing.

I was no exception, and I've seen some things on this here Internet...


Sometimes, there really is only one way to experience a game and that is to play it. Unfortunately, I had no luck, with an emulation of the DOS port appearing to spit out everything but the game itself upon loading. I had to fall back on the ever-present YouTube.

From the start, Wizball looks weird. There's a HUD that details what I assume to be power-ups or weapons of some sort, but you aren't piloting a ship. For whatever reason, you are a wizard who must squash himself into a ball in order to navigate the world. Controlling the titular wizball is supposedly pretty tricky, with different speeds of spin and bounce throwing you off until you either get good or get a power-up to mitigate some of the control issues by actually flying/hovering around the levels, rather than bouncing. Not that I can tell what's difficult or not when watching an expert play it, though.

There are enemies to shoot at, though they are best described as threats more than enemies. They don't appear to be life as we know it. Then again, we're a wizard squashed into a ball...

Enemies drop paint, and you need paint to colour the world around you, changing it from its dull, greyscale origins to something more magical. Why is it grey? An evil wizard did it. Why did you even need to ask? The problem with picking up paint is that you can't pick paint up unless you have a Catellite, which is obviously your wizards' cat shoved into a smaller ball.

This Catellite follows you around the levels like an A.I. buddy from a shoot 'em up or something, but can be controlled independently in order to pick up those all important paint drops. Collect enough of a particular colour and it's back to the brewing pot in order to mix them up and apply them to the world.

Fun Times

It sounds like nothing I've come across before, not just in terms of concept and gameplay, but in terms of sound too. The Commodore 64 is chucking out all kinds of notes, and while they're probably nothing much when heard alone, they are something else when put together in Wizball, especially the bits and pieces of music that can be heard in between stages.

Worlds must be explored and specific paint colours tracked down. You can only collect red, green, and blue paint, so if you need to mix them - and you will - be sure to have enough of the right colours. Wizball isn't just a mindless shooter where you collect everything that drops; you've got to search out for what you need and tackle the problems you face in getting it.

Though you probably could just collect everything in sight. I don't know. If you filled your paint pots up, would you just make a sludgy brown? And seeing as we're playing with light, not paint, doesn't that mean they'll combine in different ways, and so... you know what, I'll just leave it how it is.

Final Word

I'm a bit gutted that I'm not yet able to play Wizball, but reading about the difficulty of it, and knowing it comes from the 1980s where hard means hard, perhaps I shouldn't be so down - I'd have sucked at it and the world would remain grey.

But it's such an 'out-there' game that it deserves to be watched at the very least, and ideally played for yourself. One to keep an eye out for.

Fun Facts

The idea of the ball control came before the idea of putting a wizard in the ball - a case of 'we've got this mechanic, what do we do with it?'

Wizball, developed by Sensible Software, first released in 1987.
Version watched: C64, 1987 (DerSchmu)